The mountain flowers of Appalachia are blooming strong and fast after a warm winter and a warmer spring. Witch-hazel (Hamamelis) was the first to bloom in mid February. Red maple (Acer rubrum), Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) began flowering two weeks later. Red maple is the most prodigious tree in the region. Why is this important to beekeepers and their bees? The obvious answer is the collection of nectar to make honey, but this would be partially correct. Early spring blooms with the resultant pollen and to a lesser extent nectar flow, signal the beginning of the bee colony’s life cycle.
Hive activities vary with each season. The bees survived the cold winter months by eating their honey stores collected from the previous year. The warm, longer days of spring allow field bees to forage and resupply the hive. The sudden increase of activity combined with the smell of nectar and pollen wafting throughout the hive prompts the queen to begin laying eggs; something she wasn’t doing during winter. Red maple pollen is rich in protein. Honeybee larvae need protein to develop into pupae. The greater the amount of protein entering the hive, the more the queen lays eggs. Within weeks the hive’s population will experience a rapid, linear growth. A strong queen will lay 1500 to 2000 eggs a day. Brood rearing is the basis of colony development and the maintenance of maximum populations during the flow. As the colony expands, so does the number of younger worker bees. They will rear the larvae which relieves the older bees to forage. This means more worker bees for honey production.The greater number of bees equates to maximal honey production.
When the colony becomes overcrowded during a spring honey flow, the queen increases drone production. Worker bees will begin building large, peanut shaped cells containing virgin queens in preparation for swarming —the natural division of the colony. The overwintered queen with half of the hives population will swarm to a new home. She leaves a dozen virgins behind. They will hatch and fight one another to the death until only the strongest queen survives. She will reign until the following spring when entire the process repeats itself.
All this began by a few key flowering plants, untried and untested; begging for the chance to be recognized by a creature attracted to its beauty and gifts.
Everything that happens in the forest is merely a transformation of energy. And everything in nature works together in the same direction for a common goal: the renewal of life.
(Photo of Witch-hazel blooming near the Killer Bees Honey apiary.)